More Suits, EPA Scrutiny Seen After Chemical Emissions Case


A medical sterilizer plant’s multi-million dollar loss in court over the carcinogenic effects of ethylene oxide sets the stage for an influx of similar cases and puts EPA actions on the potentially cancerous chemical under scrutiny.

Neighboring communities at the fence lines of facilities who use ethylene oxide—a compound used primarily to sterilize medical equipment—claim that emissions from the sterilization process cause short and long-term adverse health impacts, including cancer.

Those claims may have gotten a boost from a jury in Cook County, Ill., which ruled on Sept. 19 that medical sterilizer Sterigenics’ Willowbrook plant emitted toxins that contributed to plaintiff Sue Kamuda’s breast cancer over three decades. The plaintiff argued the company knew of the health hazards from the chemical, but didn’t warn the community.

The $360 million win, which is the first jury verdict for these types of cases, could galvanize even more residents to file lawsuits against ethylene oxide emitters, according to David Fusco, partner at the K&L Gates LLP Pittsburgh office.

“The risk is real for variety of entities and the expected verdict is likely to lead an increase in litigation,” Fusco told Bloomberg Law.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also facing legal action, with environmental groups threatening to sue the agency for missing a self-imposed deadline to revise existing sterilizer rules.The EPA has been touring the U.S. to inform communities about ethylene oxide risks, following an independent watchdog report that revealed the agency delayed critical risk disclosures for areas neighboring sterilization facilities.

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Bloomberg Law, 5-10-22